Friday, May 8, 2009

Boom or Bust

I originally wrote this entry on September 24, 2004, and published it on

Journalists are a curious bunch when it comes to booms and busts. Their whole careers move with booms and busts. When there is a boom, they are among the boomers, and when a bust, among the busters.

Of course, we have those rare occasions when a journalist actually stands out. I'm thinking of H.L. Mencken or Ambrose Bierce (yes, Ambrose Bierce of The Devil's Dictionary although many know him by Carlos Fuentes' The Old Gringo). In these cases, the journalist seems to be filling a space where the priests have vacated in certain societies. A place that demands its inhabitant to speak a truth that is actually experienced.

Well, where did I learn all that stuff . . . Let's see, I remember a certain curiosity for the kinked view of things and a certain teacher. I bought my first copy of The Devil's Dictionary when I lived in Berkeley back in the summer of 1980 although I had trouble grasping large sections making references to politicians in Washington. It all seemed a bit unreal. Later on things changed and became more apparent. Then, there was a certain teacher who introduced me to Mencken and his role in instituting a particular culture among some American journalists who continue to revere him: Tom Leonard is not only a great professor of the history of journalism, he is also a great guy. He was gentle, patient and good to all students who took his graduate courses in history of American journalism. In his class, no question was unworthy of exploration. He probably doesn't quite remember me any more. After all, I sat in his graduate seminar some 15 years ago. I was that strange fellow at the J-School who also had completed a recent Ph.D. in a branch of scientific computing and was working in the physics department to put himself through the journalism program. Given the blogs and the web, it is easy to do this sort of thing today with no eyebrows raised, but back then people were very conservative and thought of me as some sort of a case gone wild.

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